Platform for Arts, Institute of Art Studies, BAS, did a series of exclusive interviews with this country’s leading artists and art historians about how does it feel to make art amid the coronavirus pandemic, about its impact on culture and long-term implications.
Biliana Petrova is a theatre director, head of Lovech Drama Theatre. She studied Directing at NATFA under the tutelage of Prof. Zdravko Mitkov (2007); doctoral student, Department of Theatre, Institute of Art Studies, BAS. She staged a number of productions in Lovech, Ruse, Sliven, Pleven, Youth Theatre in Sofia, etc., such as Lorca’s Yerma and Bruckner’s Pains of Youth (Youth Theatre ); Fairy Tales Hunter, based on the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, Pleven; and St Elijah’s Day based on works by D. Talev and P. Yavorov at Lovech Drama Theatre.
Q: What are you doing now during self-isolation at home? Are you making the best use of your time?
A: Together with the creatives and the cast we are discussing our projects, reading dramatic works, developing their renderings. We are keeping in touch online with other colleagues. Though the rehearsals were cancelled, the craft departments are continuing their work. The Blue Puppy, based on a tale by Gyula Urbán, is our new children’s production coming soon. We invested in making fascinating costumed and masks along with the set, which are now completed. The lockdown was declared when the production was already assembled. After reopening, we’d need a week to be ready for the premiere. Another suspended project was that of The Goat Horn based on a short story by Nikolay Haitov. This one will take a month to arrive at its premiere. With directors Darko Kovachevski and Christiana Boyadjieva, set designer Nadia Kovachevska and dramatist Elena Angelova we set up an online children’s workshop for those aged over six and a theatre studio for college students. The classes are published on the Facebook page of Lovech Drama Theatre.
Q: At what point of your work were you caught up in the COVID-19 crisis?
A: At a stage when we were preparing two premieres. Presently, the rehearsals of our new projects are held online to the extent possible.
Q: How did the pandemic change your everyday life, professional agenda and decisions?
A: Now is the time to focus on the work that has been postponed or falling behind.
Q: What smouldering problematic subjects surfaced as a result of self-isolation and with all activities across Bulgaria and the world cancelled?
A: We are discussing an opportunity to pay more attention to the independent sector in terms of governmental cultural policy. The development of the independent theatre is vital to Bulgarian spectators’ growth. Self-isolation and cancellation of cultural events and activities showed also that online theatre was no solution. The significance of a live contact between the actor onstage and the recipients is now realised even by the youngest audiences. As for everyday life, I realised something else: one could lead a simpler life, living with less and with no frills. At the same time we should focus on spiritual values, which make us human beings. Many of my friends took to reading books again instead of online publications alone.
Q: Your opinion about the impact on creative and research quests and the long-term implications?
A: We hope that the consequences will boil down to delays in creative processes only, rather than in their quality or professionalisms and my colleagues’ enthusiasm for work. Creative processes may be lent unexpected depths in an effort to explore human soul, because people involved in them now have the time to ask themselves questions requiring silence and isolation we couldn’t afford before.
Q: Where do you expect to get support in the declared state of emergency over Covid-19?
A: We rely on the Ministry of Culture and Lovech Municipality and we are encouraged by the opportunity to submit projects that could be carried out in 2020–2021 season.
Q: What about the therapeutic role of art in the resocialization after the pandemic ends?
A: Contrary to the expectations that people will be too scared for a long time to return to theatres and having reduced financial resources, we dream of revived interest and increased need in experiencing theatre.
Our in-house director Christiana Boyadjieva launched an online initiative for the children in lockdown urging them to compose dramatic stories together with actors from our theatre, and this in itself has a therapeutic effect in conditions of self-isolation. These periodical courses picked the kids’ interest and we hope for holding their interest after the end of the lockdown. We are also holding training courses online with pupils planning to develop them into a theatre studio.
Q: Any ideas about how to resume this country’s cultural activities after the end of the pandemic?
A: Our first more brave initiative will be Open-air Theatre in the Fortress in Lovech, which sounds more realistic in Coovid-19 conditions than indoor events. We hope that our online efforts in the lockdown would lead to a more successful dialogue with the spectators after it is over. Thanks to our meetings with them we understand the importance of such sidebar initiatives as holding conversations and seminars on various topics. For interest in theatre is not in its aesthetic aspect alone, but also in its history and processes: how a text is developed into a production, forms of theatre, etc. Apart from the new productions in our repertoire, we intend to attract new intelligent audiences